Chapter 12. Cathryn, defined

Cathryn set her tumbler down with a rap and spun to see who had tapped on her shoulder. The tapper, a tallish, bespectacled man around 50, stepped back abruptly. “Sorry,” he said.

He didn’t seem obnoxious, aside from having tapped her on the shoulder. “No, sorry, I’m just a little jumpy right now,” she said. Then a thought stiffened her like a foot in ice water. Was she going to jump? She seemed not to be jumping. She looked down at her feet. They were not jumping.

“‘Jumpy’ isn’t one of the terms that have been updated, I guess,” the man said. He attempted a smile.

She looked at him. Who was he? He was the man she had seen reflected in the window when she asked Pierre was a mountweazel was. And…

“Sorry,” he said by way of explanation, “I think you found my bookmark.” Then: “Don’t worry, I don’t need it.”

Cathryn had two simultaneous thoughts: “What a coincidence” and “I guess ‘sorry’ hasn’t been updated either.” Or maybe he had the Canadian edition. Or something. Then a third thought came, and she spoke it: “You’re here because of Maxim.”

“Yes, I was just up talking with him an hour or so ago. …I mean, obviously I didn’t expect anyone else who knew him to come in here. I just stopped in for a pint.” He held out his hand. “James.”

She… what the heck, she shook his hand. “Cathryn. I just met Maxim for the first time.”

“So did I. I had no idea he and I were in the same town. Actually I had never heard of him before Pierre mentioned him to me.”

“So Pierre told you about him.”

“Yes,” James said. “At the spelling bee on Saturday. I was a guest judge. …I’m a language blogger. I guess I’d seen his blog before, but his name’s not on it. What is it called…” He looked up and leftward, as if it were on a neon sign somewhere there. “Ah, hell, I can look it up.” He pulled out his phone and poked at it.

“So…” Cathryn said, not sure if this was going anywhere that would help her. “Pierre just… told you his name. And gave you his email.”

“Yeah, well, we’re drinking buddies, Pierre and I,” James said with a kind of shrug, looking up for 0.76 seconds from his phone. “He knows me. And he thought I would enjoy talking with him. Maxim. And I’m generally very good at keeping secrets. Which… Abstruse in the Sense of Recondite.” He looked up. “Sorry, that’s the name of his blog. ‘Abstruse in the Sense of Recondite.’ Isn’t that a quote from… Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Cathryn remembered that the last time she saw him, this James person had been reading Joyce’s Ulysses. She was having doubts about the possibility of getting a coherent and useful conversation from him.

“Well, anyway,” she said, “he seems to have scooted off with Marcy Coachman.”

“Oh?”

“That was the van that just went. I think.”

“Oh. Huh. …Well, she won thirty-seven million dollars.” He raised an eyebrow and shrugged with one shoulder as he said this, apparently to convey that it was impressive in the principle and obvious in the conclusion.

“Apparently because of this dictionary, somehow.”

“Oh! Yes.” He held up his phone and poked it a few more times. “Mountweazel. You said mountweazel…”

“Yes, I know what that means now.”

Poke poke poke poke. “Well, she is one.” Jab. He held up the phone. It was showing the Worcester Universal app. It was displaying a word and definition.

The word was “marycela.”

The definition was “a lottery winner.”

There were also some quotes and etymological details, all apparently factitious. In the sense of “bogus.”

The update date was the previous Friday.

“This is really freaking me out,” Cathryn said.

“In theory, anyone named Marycela should be rich by now,” James said. “Or soon.”

“If they’ve bought the dictionary.”

“Oh! Yes.”

Cathryn pointed at his phone. “…Can you look something up for me?”

“Don’t you have the app on your phone?”

“Not the Universal app. I’m afraid to install it.”

“Well, you’ve already accepted the terms and conditions. Whatever they are.”

Cathryn blinked and squinched. “What are they, anyway?”

“I don’t know. I can’t find them. They’re not anywhere. Well buried or something.”

“I want to find out,” she said, mostly not to him. And then, to him, “Can you look up my name?”

“Catherine?”

“C A T H R Y N,” she said, with the same reflex most of us use to scratch an itch.

“Ah!” He typed it in, and after he hit the Search button he glanced over his shoulder, apparently remembering his beer still sitting on the bar. He handed the phone to her and stepped over, picked it up, and had a drink. It was already halfway empty and may not have been his first.

She looked at the phone. It said “cathryn” and then “noun | \kæ•θrɪn\” and then “plural cathryns” – Cathryn wasn’t sure how she felt about being pluralizable, but then, seeing oneself defined was a bit of an out-of-body experience overall – and then “definition: a person born naturally lucky in finding things out.” Following it was an etymology, evidently spurious but convincing (at least to the non-classicist), from Ancient Greek καθευρίσκω ‘discover’. He had even confected quotations, one supposedly from Austen – “She did not know what he might do, but she was a cathryn, and she would find out” – and another supposedly from Melville – “If I had been born a cathryn, then I should not have had all this adventure.” It was an impressive effort from Maxim, given the time he would have had to do it. Cathryn suspected he might have been thinking of it between their email exchange and her arrival, but surely he must have posted it in the very short time between her departure and Marcy’s arrival. Right?

She looked at the update date. It was indeed today. But it didn’t say what time.

She held the phone out to James for him to take it back. But he was putting his emptied beer glass down on the counter slowly while staring out through the window. She started to turn to look, but he said, “Don’t turn around too quickly. Sit down for a moment. Casually.” He sat on the nearest barstool and leaned back with his elbow on the bartop. She casually did the same, casually set James’s casual phone casually down, and casually glanced over her casual shoulder casually through the casual window and across the casual street to see a black limo with dark windows in front of 26 Prince. Through the lobby glass she saw three men in uncomfortable suits leaning on the counter talking with the doorman. And then the doorman went with them to the elevator, looking about as at ease as a snowman in a tanning salon.

“I’m not strongly inclined to head out until that car has driven on,” James said.

Cathryn thought for a moment. She could probably slip out and be inconspicuous and non-threatening. But then she remembered: She was the latest word in the dictionary. She turned her back towards the window. “Let me know if anyone comes in,” she said. “And let me know if the car leaves.”

James nodded. Then he picked up his phone and looked at it. “Born lucky.” He looked up at her. “Is that retroactive, do you think?”

“I just hope it’s proactive,” she said. “I wish it were transferable.” She stared off towards the TV screen, which was on a news channel. The chyron across the bottom was telling of a sudden spate of mysterious and often gruesome deaths among spouses of English teachers. She shivered a little and tried again to figure out how to wake up.

2 responses to “Chapter 12. Cathryn, defined

  1. The Patreon version has a slight difference from this text, where it says “English teachers” here. Is this version the revised text?

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